In a welcome surprise, DC rapper Oddisee dropped his latest last week, a seven-track EP that debuted on Stereogum. The EP’s title, Alwasta, is the Arabic term for a social connector—someone whom Malcolm Gladwell memorably described as full of “curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy.” Gladwell’s definition just so happens to fit Oddisee perfectly: an artist engaging his listeners through probing, provocative lyrics on deep issues.
Alwasta kicks off with “Asked About You,” a track whose easy, downtempo feel belies its serious weight. On it, Oddisee serves up an unblinking poetic précis of the African experience in American history—from pre-colonial arrival on slave ships, to the enduring climate of racial injustice—that ends in a lament: “Now we harbor what was docked at the harbor.”
On “Lifting Shadows,” Oddisee recalls coming up on the District’s northwest side (“White House here, trap house there/They were so near you could go by feet”) and tackles the prejudices and suspicions facing Muslim Americans like himself (“Since 9/11 they ain’t too clear who the target is/I love my country; hate its politics.”)
It’s not all big picture, though. Alwasta closes out on the self-meditative tones of “Catching Vibes” and “Slow Groove,” which deliver what their titles promise. The former finds Oddisee making his peace with controversy: “Some of ya’ll won’t like all my views and that don’t make no difference.” And on the latter, he toys with conflating musical creativity and intoxicants in homage to his musical idols—Hendrix, Miles, and Marvin—before concluding “Know that I got it in me/Don’t pass me a shot of whiskey.”
Long-time fans of Oddisee will find plenty to love on Alwasta, while new initiates of conscious hip-hop may discover a fresh favorite. The beauty lies in the questions, not the answers.
Alwasta is available now as a free download through Oddisee’s Bandcamp site.